NHSCT HR departments’ Sarah Cochrane has recently celebrated a career spanning over 20 years with the HSCT in Northern Ireland. From Belfast trust in 2002 to her current role in the NHSCT Terms and Conditions Team, Sarah gives some insight into being a Deaf staff member in the Health Service, in fact her blog of experience has recently won an award by the BDA!
Sarah has been profoundly Deaf since birth and completed her secondary education in Mary Hare School for the Deaf in England.
Sarah noted “I always rely on lip reading as part of me growing up, so that was an important aspect to me in my career to this day. I have been working in the National Health Service since I graduated from college in 2002”
Sarah’s Story -
Thinking about deafness in the workplace was a challenge for me as being in the National Health Service is a very demanding job. I have always been working in the Human Resources sector.
My experiences within the Human Resources Sector were good and bad. My first job was working as a Clerical Officer with Library duties. The team were aware of my deafness. My small office was based just three colleagues in total (the admin team) and my desk was near the door for anyone to come in with enquiries they had. So, I was aware when someone approached at the door, this meant; I was not apprehensive while concentrated on a task at my desk or if someone wanted my attention. I developed awareness within the team and reminded them to face me and explained that I was deaf and need to lip read.
While working in the Social Work Library on my own, three mornings per week, the wider team had to let me know when the fire alarm went off as I would not be able to hear the sounds, and they would come for me when that happened.
I had to leave my first job because the Trust was getting merged at the time. I had to reapply for a new second job at a new merged Trust and I became a Permanent Administrative Assistant in the Learning and Development Team based at a Hospital in Belfast. This second job was challenging because I was involved as part of a big team, on the same floor. I was based in an open plan office where there was another eight colleagues. My desk was near the photocopier so you can imagine the noise coming from the photocopier and how it was a struggle for me to understand the team when they came in for tasks for me to do and how busy it was for me daily.
In that office they created a “Buddy” system where a colleague who was in the office could let me know when the fire alarm went off or anything else they can let me know such as important announcements etc.
One bad issue I had in that job was when my team had a monthly team meeting at one time, and the manager asked me to take minutes for the meeting. I was horrified because there was no way I could not do the minutes as I had never had to do this before as of my deafness. I told the Manager about this before the meeting started and she insisted that I needed to try this to improve my skills. I did my best doing the minutes and at one stage I misunderstood what the Manager were saying, and I had to ask her to repeat a few times but still I could not make out what she was saying, so you can imagine how often I asked her to repeat, and she was frustrated because she wanted to move onto the next topic on the agenda. I even asked her to show me the notes on her file pad for me to write down, and she refused. I was annoyed and stressed.
After the meeting finished, I typed up the minutes to my knowledge and sent to my manager by email. My manager sent me back the minutes and I saw how much I had missed a lot of information during the meeting. The Manager never asked me again to take minutes at future meetings while I was there in my second job,
During my second job in the Learning and Development Team, there were always a lot of conversations between colleagues which I missed out as part of a big team, sometimes they forgot to tell me what was going on or I had to remind them gently.
I was part of a “Friday” morning huddle where colleagues gathered and discussed what was the pros and cons of a working week had been for them. I was given a “Speech Bubble” image so when a colleague spoke, I handed the speech bubble image over to him or her to speak out and face me, so I know which colleague was speaking. It was good at first but then it dwindled when weeks went by as colleagues forget to face me etc.
I left my second job because of my long commute to work from home. It was hard going getting a new NHS job as of my deafness. Eventually this job is my current one at a different location, at a different hospital. This job was for the Terms and Conditions Team.
This department has been amazing because they had been on a Deaf Awareness course and my team had been so great to this day, they email me with tasks, actions to be completed etc.
We have Microsoft Teams and there is a chat room there which the team responses to me when I ask questions on a regular basis as I get tired lip reading all day in the office.
My team are understanding, and they help me when I ask about what people were talking about in normal conversations. My manager is particularly good to me as she keeps me updated and organising a BSL sign language interpreter for regular meetings and training sessions to this day. The issues I have had with this team at the beginning were that the colleagues were telling stories and were laughing/joking about at the same time which I could not make out what they were saying. Someone comes in and make an announcement at the door and I could not make out what the announcement were as I currently work in a massive open plan office where they are 16 colleagues working. I also don’t hear when colleague leave the office during breaks or heading home when my face is looking at the computer screen.
There are plans in place to have strobe lightning for me when the fire alarm goes off and we have recently completed communication tactics with AdaptNI.
If you or your colleague is Deaf or has hearing loss/Tinnitus, there are adjustments which can be made and support is available through AdaptNI. Consider a few things, accessible communication (BSL / ISL interpreters?) Lipreading – it’s difficult and tiring – speak directly to the person, ask what suits best or ask your manager for support. You are not alone and with the right adjustments you can achieve anything you put your mind to.